Voters in three Detroit suburbs first chose mayors who are both Muslim and Arab American in Tuesday’s historic local elections, marking a shift in political power to the region with the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States.
Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, and Hamtramck, located in southeastern Michigan, have experienced decades of economic growth and cultural advancement driven by immigration and investment by Arab Americans, but struggled with representation. How Arabs are represented – both in census data and due to the lack of a separate “Arab” category or lack of representation in elected office – has long been a public concern. Residents and experts say these elections show impending political progress – sometimes amid racism or Islamophobia – of Muslim and Arab American people who have become an integral part of these communities.
“Because [of] the lack of census data of Arab origin in America, there is debate about its size, but after yesterday’s elections in the region of three American mayors of Arab origin there is no debate about its growth and influence. ” Matthew Jaber Stiffler, research and content manager at the Dearborn Arab-American National Museum, told PBS NewsHour after the election.
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In Tuesday’s election, Michigan Rep. Abdullah Hammud defeated former State Representative and former Wayne County Commissioner Gary Voronchak to become mayor of Dearborn, home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arab Americans, by 54.6% versus 45.2%. according to unofficial election results. provided by the Wayne County clerk.
“The people of Dearborn spoke loudly. They want change and bold leadership to tackle the challenges we face, ”Hammud said in a statement to the media Tuesday night. “We live in America’s greatest city, and I am thrilled with what we can achieve together if we unite around a common vision.”
Hammoud’s campaign says his platform is targeting the working-class Dearborn families and is looking for ways to lower taxes without sacrificing quality of service. Throughout the campaign, he unveiled detailed plans and strategies to deal with chronic flooding and crumbling infrastructure – the city, like many in southeastern Michigan, was hit by torrential floods this summer, as well as reckless driving, health inequities and insufficient funding of pensions.
“Tackling complex problems requires rethinking how we work, especially when we are working to build a more resilient city in the face of a pandemic,” Hammoud said. “Dearborn has what it takes to thrive. We have innovative hometown entrepreneurs and corporations, rich culture and vibrant neighborhoods, we just need to come together and work together as one city. ”
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In a closely watched race in Hamtramck, a longtime destination for immigrants from Eastern Europe and a stronghold of the Polish-American army for a century, Amer Ghalib won 68.2 percent of the vote and became mayor of the suburb, overturning incumbent President Karen Majewski with 31.4 percent. votes. It was the first time in its 100-year history that Hamtramck voters elected someone who was not a Catholic and a Pole American. Ghalib, an immigrant from Yemen, will become the city’s first Muslim mayor.
And in Dearborn Heights, Mayor Bill Bazzi, who was appointed to the post in January 2021 following the death of previous mayor Dan Paletko in December 2020, legitimized his position with an election victory. Bazzi was elected both to complete this partial term and to the next term, in both cases beating Denise Malinowski-Maxwell by a wide margin.
A turning point
The oldest, largest and most diverse Muslim American and Arab American communities in the United States are located in the Detroit metro area. Christian Syrian and Lebanese immigrants first arrived in the area in the 1880s, followed by Palestinian, Iraqi, Chaldean, Yemeni, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi Americans and many more attracted to the area by job opportunities at Ford Motor Company in 1920 years.
Changes in US immigration laws in 1965, as well as a long line of political conflicts overseas, also contributed to the region’s growth and diversity. But until now, the cities of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramk have never had a Muslim or Arab American representation at the mayor level.
Although Arab Americans have been part of the Dearborn population for over a century, Dearborn’s leadership has not always been welcoming. During Mayor Mike Guido’s first campaign in 1985, he asked voters to help him solve what he called the city’s “Arab problem”.
“For Dearborn, given the segregationist and anti-Arab history of the city’s leadership, it is especially important to have an Arab-American mayor there,” Stiffler said.
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Abed Hammoud, who first ran for mayor of Dearborn in 2001 and co-founded the Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC) in 1998, saw these mayor and city council victories as part of the continued political progress and engagement of the Arab American community. His son, Mustafa Hammud, won a seat on Dearborn’s city council in Tuesday’s election.
“The new generation is demonstrating that it is moving forward and is in some way volunteering. And this is a big deal for the community because it continues to make us part of the core fabric. ” Abed Hammoud told NewsHour about this after the elections. “So when [Abdullah Hammoud is] while doing a good job for all of Dearborn, it will also continue to open doors for the rest of the community to be accepted as regular civil servants.
“And [there] there will be no more fear of running for office saying that my name sounds wrong, or I don’t have the correct last name, or I’m not from this culture, ”he added.
Abd Hammoud said that Abdullah Hammud, a Muslim and child of Lebanese immigrants, should not have changed his name or hide his religion when he ran for public office. “The people of Dearborn knew they were voting for Arab and Muslim. And he clearly won not only with the votes of the Arabs. We do not have these voices, ”he said.
“[The] The same is obviously the case with Dearborn Heights. It’s the same with Hamtramck. There is a lot of pressure on these men to succeed, to succeed because they gain credibility by telling people that we can serve or can be very good. ” Abed Hammoud said.